By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Apr 30, 2011 at 4:14 PM

It was 40 years ago tonight, in the old Baltimore Arena, that the Milwaukee Bucks, just three years removed from their expansion season, sat atop the basketball universe.

The Bucks, led by future Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar (still Lew Alcindor at that point), polished off a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Bullets to clinch what is still the only National Basketball Association Championship in franchise history.

Three players from that team – Robertson, Abdul-Jabbar and Jon McGlocklin – have their numbers hanging from the Bradley Center rafters. It's not a nostalgic move on the Bucks' part; those three men were big-time players.

"(That team) had a combination of experience with Oscar and youth with Kareem," says John Steinmiller, the Bucks' Vice President of Business Operations. "You had Kareem in his second season, then pair him with Oscar, who was one of the best in the game. Then you look at the mix of other talent, (Bobby) Dandrige, (Lucius) Allen, McGlocklin ... It was just great combination, their great chemistry ... most of them had played a year together."

It's hard to believe that the Bucks were just three years old when they won the title. Milwaukee went 27-55 in its first NBA season and famously won a coin toss with fellow expansion team Phoenix (which went 16-66) for the top pick in the draft and, ostensibly, the right to select Abdul-Jabbar

The Bucks did just that and instantly rocketed in the standings, finishing 56-26, just four games behind Eastern Division champion New York. The Bucks fell to the Knicks, 4-1, in the division finals but it didn't take long – all of one day, actually – for the Bucks to find the final piece to a championship puzzle.

That piece was Robertson, then a 31-year-old, 6-foot-5, who had found himself at odds with Cincinnati Royals head coach Bob Cousy. The Bucks shipped guard Flynn Robinson and forward Charlie Paulk to the Royals, who had finished a dismal 33-49 the year before, for Robertson. 

Robertson had played 11 years in the league, all with the Royals, who had achieved only limited success. His arrival in Milwaukee, where he would team with a star-in-the-making in Abdul-Jabbar, was not unlike the arrival of Reggie White in Green Bay when the Packers were building themselves into a Super Bowl Champion.

"I remember the very first day, the whole atmosphere and attitude was this is a championship team, we were thinking 'this is our year,'" says McGlocklin, now the team's television analyst. "I think there was a writer who was going to do a book on us. I remember getting that kind of national attention.  It was rare. We were focused on a championship. We felt like it was our year. Everything fell into place."

Milwaukee was almost unstoppable during the regular season, rolling to a 66-16 record. The Bucks set a then-NBA record, winning 20 consecutive games between Feb. 6 and March 8 and Abdul-Jabbar would earn most valuable player honors after the season for averaging 31.7 points and 16 rebounds.

The Big O, meanwhile, averaged 19.4 points and 8.2 assists while playing all 81 games. And, he shot just under 50 percent from the field. During the playoffs, he dished out a post-season leading 124 assists (8.9/game) and scored 18.3 points.

"We knew that he was the main, final piece," McGlocklin says. "We had two great players. We had some very good complementary players which proved to be true, but he was the final piece to the puzzle."

In the final game, Robertson scored 21 of his 30 points in the first half as Milwaukee finished off the sweep with a 118-106 victory. Abdul-Jabbar would be named MVP of the Finals and finished the post-season with 26.6 points and 17 rebounds per game.

"It wasn’t like taking LeBron (James) and a (Chris) Bosh and a (Dwyane) Wade and putting them all together like that; it wasn’t that obvious," Steinmiller says. "It was one thing to draft Kareem. Getting Oscar at the right time and adding to this combination was a great move ... and it paid off."

Just how good were the 1970-71 Bucks? Consider this: the team finished the regular season with an average point differential of 12.2 points – seven points higher than any team in the league and the third-best of all-time. The Bucks' three divisional rivals, Chicago, Phoenix and Detroit, each finished with a winning percentage of at least .549.

They were even more lethal in the post-season, rolling to a championship with a 14-2 record and beating their opponents by an average of 14.5 points per game. The closest contest came in game three of the finals, a 107-99 victory.

Looking strictly at the numbers doesn't do this team justice. The '71 Bucks were one of the most talented and impressive teams of all-time – including the Jordan-era Chicago Bulls.

In his 2007 book, "The NBA From Top to Bottom," author Kyle Wright calls the '71 Bucks the most dominant team in NBA history.

"Put a 66-16 NBA champion with a Hall of Fame center and a Hall of Fame point guard in New York and that team would enjoy instant immortality. The 1970-1971 Bucks merit the same recognition," he writes.

"It was a hell of a team," says Steinmiller. The longtime Bucks employee was hired earlier that season to do a number of random tasks, including changing the marquee sign outside the team's offices on S. 7th St. and Wisconsin Ave.

"It wasn't a weak league, either," he says. "The Lakers and Bulls were there and they had to be beaten. They were just so dominant."

What many thought was the start of a dynasty turned out to be the franchise's only championship. Milwaukee lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals a year later and was upset by Golden State in the first round in 1973. The Bucks advanced to the NBA Finals one last time in 1974, but fell to Boston in seven games.

Following that season, Robertson retired. A year later, Abdul-Jabbar's request for a trade was fulfilled and he was sent west to join the Lakers. McGlocklin played just 33 games in the 1975-76 season before he, too, called it a career.

Larry Costello, who had been the team's head coach since its inception, was fired after opening the 1976-77 season with a 3-15 record. He would be replaced by Don Nelson, who would build the team into a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference but the Bucks have yet to return to the NBA Finals, getting as far as the Conference Finals four times (1983, '84, '86, 2001).

Forty years later, the Bucks championship is a distant memory for some and the answer to a trivia question for others. Aside from the banner hanging in the Bradley Center (the original still hangs in the team's training facility), the 1971 World Championship is almost an afterthought, dwarfed in comparison by the Packers' Super Bowl titles and the Brewers 1982 American League Championship.

"I don't think (that team) ever received its due," McGlocklin says. "It's not sour grapes, it's just (the) facts."

1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks (66-16)
Midwest Division Champions
Western Conference Champions
NBA Champions

Head coach: Larry Costello
Assistant coach: Tom Nissalke
Trainer: Arnie Graber

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Lucius Allen
Dick Cunningham
Bobby Dandridge
Gary Freeman
Bob Greacen
Jon McGlocklin
McCoy McLemore
Oscar Robertson
Greg Smith
Jeff Webb
Marvin Winkler
Bill Zopf